Before the Snow

January 4, 2018

One of those perfect New York days….

Long walk through Central Park to the Met to see the Hockney show. Such a bright spot on a gloomy day; this is art that fills you with hope for the future.

Then down the street to the Met Breuer, and lunch at my favorite uptown restaurant: Flora Bar.  I love everything about this place, from the brutalist room to the minimalist menu.

Hiding beneath those crisp, pristine squares of nori is a smudge of red shrimp and a squiggle of uni. Roll it up – there is not a better bite in the city.

A near perfect salad: chicories hiding an entire treasure trove of pears, walnuts and blue cheese.  With a little bread, it makes a meal.

Crisp little croquettes filled with potatoes and raclette; a seductive take on a Swiss classic.

Of all the fancy burgers in the city, this is one to reckon with. Wagyu beef with a soupcon of pepper marmalade, melted cheese, and a bag full of fries. But what makes this restaurant so impressive is the attention to detail. That little frizz of lettuce is so beautifully dressed!

Headed upstairs to see the Kiefer show, and then the Munch show, and realized I’d done it all wrong. I should have reversed the order.  You want to begin with dark northern despair and breast-beating, eat lunch, and then end with the joyous Hockney show.

I felt much the same about food as I had about art: I did it backwards.  I’ve been wanting to try Tetsu, Masa’s attempt to feed those of us who can’t afford the extravagance of his sushi palace. At Tetsu’s long bar – they call it a sushi bar, but it’s not – you can watch the frenzy of the open kitchen as chefs grill heads and tails (see the hamachi tail above) and construct skewers.

The servers suggest 4 dishes per person (it’s all about sharing), which meant we ordered so much that by the time we were ready to end with a few pieces of sushi (this is, after all, Masa) we were already done.  A disappointment, because other than that really wonderful yellowtail tail, the raw fish was by far my favorite.

Loved this tai with ponzu.

Fried calamari was nicely executed – but it was, in the end, fried squid.

Scallops and asparagus – beautifully cooked but a bit lackluster.

Tamarind baby back ribs.

There were a couple of unimpressive offerings as well. Most notably the uni carbonara, which just didn’t work. And those  coconut shrimp skewers were extremely ordinary. On top of that, the whole experience felt rushed

I suspect I’m being hard on Tetsu. I’ve been a Masa acolyte since I first found him in a Los Angeles minimall (his nearest neighbor was a Seven Eleven). In those days – the mid-eighties – Masa was the king of sushi, flying off to Tokyo to source his fish, and when he went upscale I followed him to Rodeo Drive. And then to New York, where I’ve been lucky enough to eat at the Time Warner outpost a couple of times.

I once asked Masa why he’d come to America, and he replied, “I wanted to see a flat horizon,” which pretty much tells you that this is no ordinary man.  So I suppose I went to Tetsu looking for a trace of that creative imagination. What I found was a hip high quality restaurant, but one that lacks a driving personality.

It’s quite a contrast to Flora which, in spite of being inside that cool, dominant architecture never lets you forget that behind every dish is an extremely original intelligence. I always leave there happy.



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